Interesting news item from yesterday – two girls from Adelaide who were trapped in a drain called for help by updating their status on Facebook using a mobile phone. Some say this one comes in the category “you could not make this up”‘. Others – like Don Tapscott – would probable say this comes under “digital natives think differently”.
Now, as I understand, the two girls (aged 10 & 12) opted to seek out help from their social network instead of going straight to the authorities (eg. phoning ‘000’) because they wanted to avoid getting into trouble with their parents. Still, there are some important messages here, this one from Laurel Papworth:
“Incredibly important today is understanding how social networking protects our children. There is stuff they can’t tell a parent or a teacher or the police but they can’t bottle up any more. So they tell their friends, they tell people they play online games with, they write anonymously on websites full of emo-angst and they tell forum moderators and game GMs, who understand and ‘get them’. Expect to see lots more “we should’ve seen it coming” from adults waking up to teens pushing out warnings on online communities. It keeps them safe in the absence of an understanding adult”.
From my perspective – and drawing on Don Tapscott’s knowledge of these things – the girls had trust in their social network, more trust than in dealing with authority figures. Seems to me like another indicator of the central role that social network services play in the lives of digital natives.
Looking at this from anther perspective, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo all have age restrictions that limit access to those aged 13 or 14 and above. Such policies no doubt reflect the concerns that many have about social network site risks. Thing is, the reality is different. According to a UK study reported in August 2008, age restrictions do not stop many children from participating. A spokesperson for the UK research outfit said that “Children are at the vanguard of the social networking phenomenon, using sites such as Facebook and Bebo in the same way other generations used the telephone”. True for Australia too. The ACMA’s Click and connect: Young Australians’ use of online social media 02:Quantitative research report found that:
- the internet is a regular part of everyday lives of children and young people aged eight to 17 years
- both frequency and length of use increase with age
- young people of high school age (12 to 17) years used the internet on average 6.3 days per week for an average of 2.9 hours per day
- the use of social networking services increases dramatically between the ages of eight to 17.
Plenty of room for thought here, not only about what digital natives do now that is so different, but what implications lie ahead for institutions and social interaction.